Anthony MacDonald: We simply have to do a better job of attracting young people

by Anthony MacDonald

I read the story in HRU by Dave Briggs titled “Getting out of the red at Red Mile” (Sept. 30).

I was a bit shocked with the tone of the story.

I understand as a jurisdiction Kentucky faces many hurdles, and none of them are new.

In the story, this was the quote that caught my eye:

“When the (current) ownership group bought it, it was meant to be a breeders’ meet. That’s what we think it should be.”

For me, as a 39-year-old horsemen with a wife, mortgage and two kids, I find statements like this to be a perfect metaphor for horse racing in 2016.

Every jurisdiction still believes it’s every man/women for themselves.

It appears the destruction of horse racing in other states and provinces and repeated government warnings to our industry has not changed our trajectory.

Look at our medication rules, our agreements with governments, our marketing and advertising.

Nothing is done in unity, little for the greater good of horse racing.

There is no sense of one voice, or one industry and what we are left with is a sea of whispers in an ocean of economic noise.

I’m not writing this to attack Kentucky. Substantially more in fact, this a call to all young people in this industry.

Our industry has tried and consistently failed to connect with a younger generation for decades now.

I’m sure it’s frustrating, and I certainly can’t blame our establishment for trying to steady the ship, but their inability to do so is troubling.

The average age of the members of the Hambletonian Society and almost every governing body in our industry makes this a very challenging task.

In their defence, it’s not like many people under 45 are looking to lead.

Me, I’ve always spoke my mind. I’m not always right, but if this makes people talk and speak up, then right or wrong, I’m doing what I can.

As an industry it took us this long to get where we are, how long are we prepared to stay the course?

Without addressing our dwindling fan base across the board we will eventually run out of investors to buy our yearlings, meaning you could run the sales at half time of the Super Bowl and no one will be buying.

We need to understand that the crutch that casinos and governments give us in the form of handouts may help us stand, but they will never help us walk.

We need to show the general public we are worthy of their entertainment dollar and build a unified brand and voice that can represent horse racing across the board.

The generational rift in this industry is obvious and reared its head when I wrote a blog on this very topic.

It’s seemed anyone under the age of 45 agreed with what I was concerned about, and everyone over the age of 50 condemned it like it was treasonous.

I’m sorry, I don’t believe “it’s just how they do things in Kentucky or anywhere else” is an acceptable answer any longer.

This industry doesn’t have to be in such a sad state.

Young people can attend horse races, I saw at least 25,000 of them in Keeneland at the exact time harness racing set two world records at the Red Mile 15 minutes away.

People say it’s “tradition” and we could never get college kids to watch our sport at the Red Mile the way they do at Keeneland.

Well, I talked to many young people in Kentucky and it appears you’re right, like most cities with horse racing, they don’t know we exist.

But, I also see Keeneland doing all it can to bring kids out to their track.

I saw a shuttle every 10 minutes to the University of Kentucky and back full of people.

Yet it took me 15 minutes to get uber to pick me up at the front door of Red Mile.

The gentleman driving the red Nissan Rogue that finally showed up, lived in Kentucky and didn’t know they “held races at the casino.”

I was always told if you want something bad enough you better be ready to work for it.

There is no shortage of hard work in this industry, and I truly believe that we only need to focus it.

Kentucky is no different then Ontario, Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio, or any other jurisdiction.

We are all in the same boat and it’s about time we start rowing in the same direction.

Leave the past behind us and push forward to a brighter future.

We need to work hard to retain our gamblers, grow our fan base and cultivate investment from the general public.

I want to bring my family to Kentucky,

But if we continue to lose money on a breeders meet that makes all of Kentucky choose between “Tetrick or Tepin”, or “Red Mile” or the “Kentucky Wildcats” I fear by the time my kids are old enough to truly understand how incredibly beautiful Red Mile is, it will be student housing for the University of Kentucky.

I mean no disrespect by either my blog or response to Mr. Briggs’ story. I love this industry and I truly believe it will rise up.

I believe it’s time the younger generation pull their weight, speak up and start to take more responsibility in building the future of this industry.

I’m not as concerned about yesterday as I am 2017 and beyond, and I believe we all owe it to ourselves to help horse racing find a better way.

Here’s what some prominent people think about the issue:

“I think the generational gap and lack of inclusion of the next generation is the most serious threat to the horse racing industry.”
— Tom Grossman / Blue Chip Farm

“I admire Anthony for taking the ‘bull by the horns’ and addressing the problems our industry faces. I agree that we need to do our best to market our stars and make people aware the we are out there. It’s a great sport, but people just don’t know about it. I know times are different but at one point Dan Patch was a household name. How many people do you think know about Always B Miki’s astonishing mile?”
— Corey Callahan / Driver

“We are in a new era with a great opportunity, but also a great challenge to growing our industry. If we use this new revenue (slot money) and put it all in purses without working together to grow the industry, shame on us. We need leadership (young and old) to grow, and to market our great sport.
— Dr John Mossbarger / Midland Acres

“The idea that this sport doesn’t have a future or direction is ludicrous. This sport has plenty of ideas. The unfortunate part is they are locked in the creative brains of those of us under the age of 40 or 50 (just so I don’t offend too many people). Podcasts, Twitter, Facebook and other outlets have spawned debate, consternation, and frustration at the lack of initiative by those in leadership. It’s time for a turnover, a revolution of sorts to funnel creativity to the places that elicit change.”
— Adam Bowden / Diamond Creek Farm

“I appreciate Anthony’s passion for our sport. I maintain that a percentage of purse money must be budgeted to market our sport and fund enhanced drug testing. The unified voice of harness racing next generation must be the impetus to work toward defined common goals and provide the vision to move us forward.”
— Jason M. Settlemoir / COO/General Manager – Meadowlands Racing & Entertainment